There was an impression earlier on Monday evening that the nation stopped and held its breath as TV audiences awaited the resolution of what has undoubtedly become the viewing phenomenon of the year.
It was a bold step by the makers of the drama to review the killer’s identity so early in the show. DI Hardy, hours before being medically retired due to the heart condition that has dogged him thoughout the investigation tracked the killer in measured slow-motion, past recognisable town landmarks, the church, the field, the Latimers’ house and, with that heartbeat soundtrack pounding away, towards that oh-so-familiar front door. It’s then we realise his suspicions. It’s why he gave Ellie that earnest commendation on the beach and why he had distracted her with the re-arrest of Nige. The trail led him through the Miller’s house and to the culprit himself who called him in and readily handed himself over to police custody.
Never mind that most of the population had already guessed that Joe Miller was the murderer. Never mind that the motive was that old TV murder mystery cliché, paedophilia, a theme that has raised its head more than once in previous weeks. What was important now was not the denouement itself but its impact, the ripples of shock that spread out through the community as word of the arrest spread. The remainder of the episode concentrated on the aftermath of the arrest. In one harrowing scene it falls to the usually flinty Hardy to break the news to his gentle colleague of her husband’s arrest and confession, in another heart-wrenching moment Ellie had to explain events to son Tom. Olivia Colman is supreme as she channels disbelief, revulsion, grief and rage in the space of a few seconds, while David Tennant conveys all that the taciturn Hardy is unable to vocalise through his facial expression and his eyes. The entire ensemble cast deserve recognition, but if either lead actor is absent from any awards lists following their performances in this drama it will be a travesty.
The community reels with the horror as the implications of Joe’s arrest hit home. This is someone at the heart of the community, their friend and neighbour, someone who visited their houses, minded their children and even offered support in the wake of Danny’s death. For Mark the horror is almost unbearable as he has to relive the grief of losing a son now coupled with the most awful betrayal. So many key moments of the past weeks now jump out – Joe’s pointed question about the investigation to Hardy over dinner, his teasing Ellie over him being a suspect. And for Ellie, her words to Susan Wright come back to haunt her: “How could you not know?” The population gathers to hear the news, but where there is incredulity and horror there is also a sense of relief. As the producers are so keen to assure us, there is closure
At the end there is hope. At a torchlight vigil held for Danny, beacons are lit down the coast in a gesture of solidarity, a sign that the community is being connected again and that Broadchurch is not an isolated bubble where this horrific event took place but a part of the nation that is in the thoughts of all. It has been a drama that has explored the effects on the town and its residents as much as the process of finding the killer and it is quite fitting that the motif of light coming out of the darkness should show that a line has been drawn and, while events can never be forgotten, the community can reshape itself around what has happened and try to move on.
Ironically, protagonists Hardy and Miller are perhaps the only two left without a clear direction at the conclusion. At the beginning they are perhaps the most self-assured individuals in the story. Ellie is rock-solid in her conviction that Broadchurch is, and always will be, her home, and she is much respected and much loved with the perfect family to support her. Hardy is single-minded in his professionalism and his focus on his work and on this case; he is a police detective first and foremost. Now Ellie Miller is considering leaving the town and having to start again from nothing somewhere else, while Alec Hardy has lost the role that has defined him. The series concludes with the pair adrift, unsure of what to do next as the rest of Broadchurch picks itself up and moves forward. Whether these issues will be addressed in the just-announced second series remains to be seen.